Various nations – especially those outside of NATO – on Russia’s periphery are worried about a revanchist Russia under Putin. Russia fought a war with Georgia in 2008 which saw Georgia lose de facto control over two break-away regions. Similarly, Russian annexation of Crimea and the backing of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine has stoked these fears. Russian involvement in various pro-Russian separatist movements in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova has led to regional opponents of Moscow to often support each other.
Today, in an interesting move, Ukraine has appointed Mikhail Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia as the governor of Ukrainian region of Odessa. It is unprecedented that the former head of state has been given a governmental position of this nature by another country.
This appointment also appears to be part of Ukraine’s refusal to extradite Saakashvili; who faces abuse of power accusations in Georgia. It is important to note while Russia had long been backing separatist movements in Georgia, it was the Georgian government that began the war by invading separatist South Ossetia. This is a fact often lost on Western audiences. This being said, Russia’s response in aid of the separatists constituted a major breach in international law, albeit in response to the initial illegal Georgian invasion.
Saakashvili was the president of Georgia during the 2008 war with Russia, and came to power in 2003 during the so called Rose Revolution protests. According to the Kremlin, these protests were the first of the wave of “colour revolutions” which have are allegedly organized by the West to topple Russophile governments.
The choice of Saakashvili by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko is one that is likely aimed at antagonizing Russia. Odessa is both a region and an eponymous major city in Ukraine; home of the country’s largest seaport and adjacent to Russian controlled Crimea. Placing Saakashvili in such an important and sensitive region, sends a clear snub to Moscow.
Geo-politics aside, the appointment of Saakashvili is a personal snub to Putin, who is said to loathe Saakashvili. Indeed at the height of the 2008 war, during talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Putin threatened to overthrow Saakashvili, and “hang him by the balls.”